Category Archives: Legal

Runaway Husbands

RUNAWAY HUSBANDS: The Abandoned Wife’s Guide to Recovery and Renewal by Vikki Stark.


I love this book. It was my ‘bible’ in those first few months after my husband walked out on me, assuring me I was not alone, and talking me through the healing process. Even now, two years later, I’ll pick it up, and read through a few pages. There’s always something in there that helps me see how far I’ve come, in both practical and emotional ways, but still acknowledges the hurt and loss that will probably – to some extent – always be with me.

Written by a therapist, who was blindsided when she found herself in the same situation as so many of us, she gathered together the stories and thoughts of over 400 women who had also been abandoned. Patterns emerge thoughout the book, both of pain and healing. You – and we – are not alone. Other women have walked this path before us. Their stories are painfully recognizable… and their healing and transformation inspiring.

Close to the beginning of the book, Vikki Stark gives the 10 Hallmarks of what she calls Wife Abandonment Syndrome. Working my way through the list, I ticked off nine-and-a half of them. (I was fortunate – my husband didn’t leave me destitute.) I found the list extremely helpful as it left me feeling less stupid. I wasn’t the only person who had been manipulated by a man I loved.

Here is Vikki Stark’s list. I hope it helps you the way it helped me.

1) Prior to the separation, the husband had seemed to be an attentive, emotionally engaged spouse, looked upon by his wife as honest and trustworthy.

2) The husband had never said that he was unhappy or thinking of leaving the marriage, and the wife believed herself to be in a secure relationship.

3) The husband typically blurts out the news that the marriage is over out-of-the-blue in the middle of a mundane domestic conversation.

4) Reasons given for his decision are nonsensical, exaggerated, trivial or fraudulent.

5) By the time the husband reveals his intentions to his wife, the end of the marriage is already a fait accompli and he often moves out quickly.

6) The husband’s behavior changes radically, so much so that it seems to his wife that he has become a cruel and vindictive stranger.

7) The husband shows no remorse; rather, he blames his wife and may describe himself as the victim.

8) In almost all cases, the husband had been having an affair. He typically moves in with his girlfriend.

9) The husband makes no attempt to help his wife, either financially or emotionally, as if all positive regard for her has been suddenly extinguished.

10) Systematically devaluing his wife and the marriage, the husband denies what he had previously described as positive aspects of the couple’s joint history.

Legal Realities

By the time a settlement was reached, almost four years from the start, I had retained three lawyers and spent a staggering amount of money on legal fees. In Canada, for the most part, a divorce can be accomplished with minimal use of lawyers, a do-it-yourself kind of thing. If I had known then what I know now….no, I would still retain a lawyer, but I would also be more aware of just what a lawyer can and cannot do.

Each of my lawyers was capable and supportive. They all followed procedure, trying to get everything in place within the guidelines of divorce law to bring us to an agreement for the division of assets. However, my husband did not want to come to an agreement; he wanted his idea of an agreement or none at all. He refused to disclose his assets. The next three years were an endless trail of emails, phone calls, court orders, even mediation. No settlement, not even close.

My first lawyer I fired out of frustration when she basically told me she couldn’t go further without his compliance and could suggest no effective course of action. My second lawyer, after a year and a half of the same runaround, took a leave of absence, turning me over to a junior lawyer in the same firm. After taking three months to “get up to speed,” this new, younger lawyer told me this was a waste of time and money, a power play that could go on until all the assets were used up in legal fees. What about making a proposal that I could live with based on what information we did have?

Three hours later, it was done.

We aren’t talking about millions of dollars in assets here, but we are talking about a man who would not be told what to do. He would “give” me what he felt I deserved and not a penny more. And there was no way to force him to comply. Letting go of trying to establish an equal division of assets and simply finding a financial solution to get on with my life was a huge relief for me even though I was left with barely enough money to get by on as I neared by 65th birthday.

The Legal Balancing Act

Lawyers must work within The System; that doesn’t necessarily mean they are looking out for your best interests. You need to know this. My first two lawyers should have explained to me what they must have realized early on: that there is no way to force someone to cooperate in coming to a settlement if they don’t want to. Instead, they led me on through years of frustration, fear and near financial ruin. Only my last, less experienced lawyer was upfront enough to get me out of the hopeless, expensive corner I had been shoved into. And honestly, I think it was in a large part because she didn’t want to see me continue to suffer.

If I could go back…I would try to get some distance, try to remove the emotional colouring and really see what was happening and what was likely to happen. I would have talked to others with experience in the system. I would not look upon my lawyers as my defenders, but as tools for me to use. I would try to be realistic.

I believe in our legal system; I believe, essentially, it is right and fair–or tries to be. But as someone recently told me, “The legal system is not a justice system.” I needed a lawyer to guide me through the system, but after that, it was up to me to be strong, to become informed and fight for myself, and to find some measure of justice that I could live with.